Keeping Riyadh within the fold

13 March 2014

The US should not lose sight of the elevated status the kingdom enjoys with many leading economies

Saudi Arabia has always been a close partner of the US, especially with regards to regional foreign policy. The kingdom has a reputation for pragmatism, which stems from being the world’s largest oil exporter.

However, the recent re-emergence of Iran has ruffled feathers in Riyadh, reinforcing the feeling that it has been abandoned by its allies in the West.

From an objective standpoint, some of the kingdom’s grievances stand up to scrutiny. A year ago, Saudi Arabia was one of several countries supporting the Syrian rebels. After evidence mounted of atrocities being carried out by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, it looked like the UN Security Council was going to take action. However, this did not happen as key Western powers backed away from supporting military action after being outmaneuvered by Russia, leaving Riyadh as the rebel’s sole supporter.

Then in late 2013, Iran signed an interim agreement to stop enriching uranium in return for the lifting of Western sanctions. Riyadh had vehemently opposed any easing of trade embargoes, arguing that Tehran was effectively being rewarded for its sabre-rattling.

Now the kingdom has to make some hard decisions on several regional fronts. This could lead to a more isolationist stance on issues concerning Syria and Iran or a retreat to a more conciliatory diplomatic position.

Whatever line Riyadh takes, Washington should not lose sight of the elevated status the kingdom enjoys with many of the world’s largest economies. A nuclear-free Iran is good for everyone, but while Tehran’s return into the international community is essential, so too is keeping Saudi Arabia within the fold.

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